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The Hulk

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Hulk

Starring: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Ang Lee
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 140 Minutes
Release Date: June 2003
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, Brooke Langton, Cara Buono

Review by Mark OHara
No Rating Supplied

If you have been listening to talk about Ang Lee's HULK, you have heard comparisons to other stories: Beauty and the Beast, King Kong, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the entire Frankenstein sub-genre. Of course The Hulk is a comic book character, not archetypal source material; what's laudable about this treatment of the Marvel character is the director's vision. A heavyweight in the arena of action and CGI technology, HULK also slams viewers with plenty to think about.

You know the story: the victim of stray radiation, scientist Bruce Banner transforms into an angry bundle of muscles with green skin whenever he meets up with severe emotional trauma. A rarity among Marvel heroes: Banner's powers are but a reaction, though the big mute figure does use his strength and immediate healing for the cause of good beyond the revenge targeted at a given stressor. Indeed, we like the big guy because he saves others, Superman-like, and displays human intelligence at least until he is forced to react with more rage toward his pursuers.

The team of screenwriters portrays a military man, General Ross (Sam Elliott), as the most relentless persecutor. Elliott does a marvelous job as the ram-rod straight four-star general, a very hands-on keeper of the peace who confronted Bruce Banner's scientist father David long before Bruce suffered the first tinge of greenness. Elliott physically resembles Peter Parker's editor from Spider-Man, but his General Ross is a rounder character. Although Elliott has been accused of "almost" overacting in this role (appropriate in such a campy role, no?), he plays Ross as a by-the-book commander and a genuinely concerned father to Banner's ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).

Perhaps a bigger conflict in Bruce Banner's life is Mr. Talbot (Josh Lucas). Talbot is the least developed villain in the piece, a puppet that stands in for the greedy military-industrial-scientific complex (President Eisenhower's original phrase). Lucas functions well enough in the part of a fearless and uncaring fiend out to make a buck from the Hulk's DNA, if only he could harvest some.

Jennifer Connelly's character, Betty, faces a quandary that truly engages us. Once intimate with colleague Bruce Banner, she keeps a friendly distance now. What an uncommon situation! A story lacking a physical love interest would seem to be a hard one to tell today, but director Lee sculpts a believable relationship between two young scientists who essentially do not get the chance to show their love. Connelly's acting is the most transparent in the piece.

Eric Bana as Bruce Banner turns in a good portrayal, though his brilliance as a scientist is not promoted enough: at times Bana's vacant stares dull the hyper-consciousness so necessary for Banner's predicament to be fully moving. It's fair to say his clearest foil is his father, the discredited scientist David Banner (Nick Nolte). The elder Banner has a hand in a most curious subplot, and Nolte demonstrates his experience and expertise in ranting on a par with the best actors of his generation.

This movie has good looks: Ang Lee apparently camped out in the digs of Industrial Light and Magic a first and the results are both sumptuous and subtle. For instance, the language of comic books is stylish and understated, as Lee and his editors split the screen several ways, to further the story as well as to build transitions within and between sequences. Further, the computer-generated images and effects surrounding them appear seamless. And it would probably take pages to explore the extensive imagery that Lee spreads throughout the story. For one, we spot repeated shots of mottled organic structures, patterns of vegetation, swirling molecular designs, weathered and striated wood, snippets of mental images shooting through Banner's feverish brain as he finds himself chased through the plains and rocky passes of Monument Valley. All these shots, along with variations on themes from downright deep stories, give us a serious adaptation of the plight of the Hulk, himself one of the least graceful of heroes.

But there are also cool chases scenes, including loads of fire power and an over-the-top shooting gallery among the desert canyons. Lots of interaction between the Hulk and his surroundings holds us fascinated. What Ang Lee has put together is a solid companion piece to other films made from graphic texts, and an artful exploration of conflicts both external and internal.

Copyright 2003 Mark OHara

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